The Soundtrack Series: Wes Anderson


I’d typically like this series to branch out from my personal favorites, but I’m in a Wes Andersony mood this week. And thus, the soundtrack spotlight turns to Wes Anderson and his flood of 70s hipster father angst. It’s become vogue in recent years to bust Wes Anderson’s balls for… well, the same things I just busted his balls for, but the reality is that the guy knows how to put together a soundtrack. This list has no shortage of soundtrack moments.

To clarify, father angst has nothing to do with my Wes Andersony mood. My dad’s cool as hell.

Judy is a Punk, The Royal Tenenbaums
Margot was a punk- at least to the group of guys interested in the private eye’s report on her- and this barrage of flashbacks did a brilliant job of illustrating their humiliation. Complete with Futura!

The Hardest Geometry Problem in the World, Rushmore
It’s a bouncy little tune from longtime Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh. What makes it work so well is that the tune matches the boarding school atmospherics and Max’s narcissistic, ambitious dream.

The Heroic Conditions of the Universe, Moonrise Kingdom
The piece is used throughout the film and manages to fit the movie’s themes like a glove. I have two personal favorite segments. The first is “Thunder, Lightning, and Rain”, which plays when the massive hurricane hits the church. The second, and the one I’m including, is “A Veiled Mist,” used earlier on when the kids first scamper away.

Search and Destroy, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
If you choose Iggy Pop’s electric tune to accent your fantastical tale in which a Jacques Cousteau knockoff goes Rambo for sixty seconds on Phillipino pirates, who am I to argue?

Heroes and Villains, The Fantastic Mr. Fox
There’s something divine about the fusion of Wes Anderson’s nostalgia and misfits and the Beach Boys’ own nostalgic misfit from the SMiLE sessions, Heroes and Villains, especially as the animal crew plies their craft as heroes.

Needle in the Hay, The Royal Tenenbaums
This scene has since been parodied by no less than Kermit the Frog to many laughs. At the time the film was released, seeing Richie Tenenbaum tear apart everything that made him Richie- namely, his beard, sunglasses, and 70s hair- just before slitting his wrists was a gut punch to audiences. Of course, even in a sea of Richie’s despair, we still get a laugh out of Dudley, who finds him.

This Time Tomorrow, The Darjeeling Limited
This time tomorrow, where would this list be without a Kinks song?

The Wind/Oh Yoko, Rushmore
This is a particularly great sequence that combines Cat Stevens during the catharsis, and John Lennon during the retribution- particularly perfect since it involves Max’s acceptance of Margaret Yang.

2000 Man, Bottle Rocket
I have to confess, Bottle Rocket is the one Wes Anderson film I haven’t liked. But there’s no arguing the effectiveness of this song and this scene.

Rebel, Rebel; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
One of the highlights of the Zissou soundtrack is Seu Jorge’s Brazilian versions of David Bowie songs. You could pick many options for this slot. I chose “Rebel, Rebel” because it’s one of Bowie’s most notable songs. And this list would have to include one of Jorge’s efforts.

Farewell to Earnest, The Darjeeling Limited
Just as Seu Jorge’s Brazilian Bowie played a major role in Zissou, so too did Anderson’s sampling of classic Indian film soundtracks for The Darjeeling Limited. Those songs helped develop a mystical aura around the setting, and introduced western audiences to a whole new world. Again, many choices could have been made. I simply went with a personal favorite.

The Muzak Version of Hey Jude, The Royal Tenenbaums
The opening sequence of Tenenbaums expertly mixes the  cheesiness of a muzak version of a beloved song, The Beatles, an Alec Baldwin voiceover, and the humor buried in a montage sequence establishing the Tenenbaums as a wealthy, Rockefeller parody gone afoul.


Filed under Movies

21 responses to “The Soundtrack Series: Wes Anderson

  1. I believe we talked about that Esquire article from exactly 13 years ago where various prominent directors picked their next up and coming director. Scorsese picked Wes Anderson. Pretty interesting choice for Scorsese given how effectively each of them uses music in their films. Here’s the link…

    • Your pointing that out is one of my favorite comments here. I’ve stewed on it ever since and I think it’s easy to see the admiration between the two. They both have a love of both French and Indian cinema (and cinema in general), and Anderson’s camera is almost as lively as Scorsese’s without being derivative.

      • I figured that if anyone would appreciate that article, it would be you. Glad you enjoyed it! It left a huge impression on me too. I mean, 13 years later and I still remember it.

  2. Anderson always has great soundtracks in his films. My favorite soundtracks of his are probably The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I love the use of Heroes and Villains in Fantastic Mr. Fox in particular.

    • I’ve bought and enjoyed every one of them except for the last two, and that’s more a sign of me getting behind than it is indicative of the quality.

  3. heyzeus

    As a noted Elliott Smith fanboy, it bothered me a bit when Anderson used Needle in the Hay for the suicide scene in Tenenbaums. I thought it was too pat (a song about drugs/suicide in a scene about suicide) but that more importantly, Smith’s music shouldn’t be seen as just a generic stand-in when a director’s script says “cue the sad music.” I found his music to be about overcoming the hardships in his life, not wallowing in them.

    Then, just two years later Smith committed suicide in one of the more gruesome ways possible. So, maybe Wes was right.

    My favorite musical discovery in a Wes Anderson soundtrack is from Bottle Rocket, “Over and Done With” by the Proclaimers – yep, that Scottish band that sang the “I would walk 500 miles song…” that was in every soundtrack in the 90s. It’s about stories from the past, and I suppose about how they don’t matter now. Check it out some time.

  4. First if all,I love Wes Anderson n his soundtracks. I like yr choices for yr faves. If I add my faves,frm Rushmore-ooh la la by the faces. The royal tenebeums-she smiled sweetly/ruby Tuesday. Darjeeling- Play with Fire (tht train sequence is magical),Strangers ( I watched this for the 2nd time n it made me tear up) n where do you go)

  5. For fantastic mr fox,it would be yes heroes n villains,krisstofen’s theme n street fighting man. Moonrise Kingdom,the opening tune,Le temps d’amor. Looking forward wht he did next!

  6. Alright, I think you have convinced me give The Life Aquatic another chance. I didn’t like it when I saw it years ago, but I love those songs that you singled out. Plus now I have actually enjoyed a few of Anderson’s other films, so maybe I’m more prepared this time.

    • I’ll definitely admit, Life Aquatic is one of my lesser favorites from Anderson. If I ranked them, it’d be 2nd from the bottom, just above Bottle Rocket. Although I still gave it 3 out of 5 stars and was glad I saw it.

      • I love The Life Aquatic, I just can’t help it. I own the soundtrack, the red beanie and yes, have had a few pictures taken of me pointing into the distance, wistfully imagining the glory of catching a jaguar shark. Although I love the Seu Jorge songs, my tune of choice has to be Ping Island/Lightning Strike Rescue Op. Agree with you on Bottle Rocket though, I started watching it, but just couldn’t get into it.

  7. I’m currently a film student however I have never studied in detail the effects of soundtrack, your blog has been very interesting and has giving me much to think about, not just with Anderson but other directors, great post.

    • That’s great! Thank you for the kind words. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved soundtracks. When I started this series, it seemed like something natural and fun to pursue. The only problem is choosing which director to do next because there are so many.

  8. Amazing post John, you forced me to shut off my iTunes and listen to each and every clip. I love me some Wes Anderson. Best post I read today.

  9. I just went and purchased Needle in the Hay lol

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